GOVERNMENT OF SINGAPORE

GOVERNMENT OF SINGAPORE

Singapore has what has been described as parliamentary system with Orwellian overtones. Singapore has enjoyed an international reputation for 1) political stability, 2) honest, effective government and administration, and 3) for ingenious and successful economic policies. It is also known for its authoritarian style of governance and limited tolerance for opposition or criticism, qualities the government deemed necessary to ensure survival in a hostile world and which its domestic and foreign critics claimed indicated a refusal to consider the opinions of its citizens or anyone outside the closed circle of the aging leadership. In the early 1990s, the leadership faced issues of political succession and of modifying the relationship between the state and the increasingly prosperous and well-educated society it had created. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Republic of Singapore is a city-state with a governing structure patterned on the British system of parliamentary government. The constitution for the State of Singapore was promulgated on June 3, 1959, and was amended in 1965 at independence. The presidency is largely ceremonial. The prime minister is the most powerful political figure. The current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, however, has been in office only since August 12, 2004, and serves under the advice of his father, long-time prime minister and now minister mentor, Lee Kuan Yew. The younger Lee assumed the office of prime minister when the incumbent Goh Chok Tung, who succeeded Lee Kuan Yew in 1990, stepped down, but Lee’s mandate was democratically confirmed in an election held on May 6, 2006. Goh Chok Tong serves as senior minister. The People’s Action Party (PAP), founded in 1954, has governed without serious opposition since 1959.

In 1989 legislative power was vested in a unicameral Parliament with eighty-one members who were elected for five-year terms (or less if the Parliament was dissolved prematurely). Members of Parliament are elected by universal adult suffrage from forty-two single-member constituencies and thirteen group representation constituencies. Voting is compulsory for all citizens above the age of twenty-one. The group representation constituencies elect a team of three members, at least one of the whom has to be Malay, Indian, or a member of one of Singapore's other minorities. The group representation constituencies, introduced in the 1988 general election, were intended to ensure multiracial parliamentary representation to reflect Singapore's multiracial society. In another departure from the British model, members of Parliament elected on a party ticket had to resign if they changed parties. A 1984 amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act provided for the appointment to Parliament of up to three nonconstituency members if the opposition parties failed to win at least three seats in the general election. The nonconstituency members were chosen from the opposition candidates who had polled the highest percentage of votes. The seventh Parliament, elected on September 3, 1988, and meeting for the first time on January 9, 1989, included one elected opposition member and one nonconstituency member. *

Names, Flag and National Symbols of Singapore

Formal Name: Republic of Singapore (English-language name), in other official languages: Republik Singapura (Malay), Xinjiapo Gongheguo (Chinese), and Cingkappãr. Short Form: Singapore. Term for Citizen(s): Singaporean(s).

The name Singapore was adopted on February 23, 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles to designate the town he founded. It was derived from Simhapura, Sanskrit for “Lion City,” the name of a trading town in the area that had been used at least since the 14th century.

Flag: two equal horizontal bands of red (top) and white; near the hoist side of the red band, there is a vertical, white crescent (closed portion is toward the hoist side) partially enclosing five white five-pointed stars arranged in a circle; red denotes brotherhood and equality; white signifies purity and virtue; the waxing crescent moon symbolizes a young nation on the ascendancy (in other countries it is a symbol of Islam); the five stars represent the nation's ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice, and equality. The flag was adopted in 1959 when Singapore became a self-governing state within the Malaysian Federation.

National symbol(s): lion, merlion (mythical half lion-half fish creature)

National anthem: "Majulah Singapura" (Onward Singapore): lyrics/music by Zubir Said. Adopted 1965, the anthem, which was first performed in 1958 at the Victoria Theatre, is sung only in Malay.

Short Description of Singapore

Date of Independence: August 31, 1963, from Britain; August 9, 1965, from the Federation of Malaysia. Singapore joined the Malaysian Federation in 1963 but separated two years later and became independent. Singapore subsequently became one of the world''s most prosperous countries with strong international trading links (its port is one of the world''s busiest in terms of tonnage handled) and with per capita GDP equal to that of the leading nations of Western Europe. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The world's busiest port, the modern nation of the Republic of Singapore, was founded as a British trading post on the Strait of Malacca in 1819. Singapore's location on the major sea route between India and China, its excellent harbor, and the free trade status conferred on it by its visionary founder, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, made the port an overnight success. By 1990 the multiethnic population attracted to the island had grown from a few thousand to 2.6 million Singaporeans, frequently referred to by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as his nation's greatest resource. If Raffles had set the tone for the island's early success, Lee had safeguarded the founder's vision through the first quarter-century of Singapore's existence as an independent nation, providing the leadership that turned it into a global city that offered trading and financial services to the region and to the world. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Modern Singapore would be scarcely recognizable to Raffles, who established his trading center on an island covered with tropical forests and ringed with mangrove swamps. Towering skyscrapers replace the colonial town he designed, and modern expressways cover the tracks of bullock carts that once led from the harbor to the commercial district and the countryside beyond. Hills have been leveled, swamps filled, and the island itself expanded in size through extensive land reclamation projects. Offshore islands are used for recreation parks, oil refineries, and military training bases. Despite the scarcity of land for real estate, the government has worked to maintain and expand the island's parks, gardens, and other green spaces. By housing 88 percent of its population in mostly multistoried public housing, Singapore has kept a rein on suburban sprawl. In Raffles's town plan, separate areas were set aside for the various ethnic groups of the time: Malays, Chinese, Arabs, Bugis, and Europeans. Government resettlement programs begun in the 1960s broke up the former ethnic enclaves by requiring that the public housing projects--called housing estates--that replaced them reflect the ethnic composition of the country as a whole. As a result, modern Singapore's three main ethnic groups--Chinese, Malays, and Indians--live next door to each other and share the same housing development facilities, shops, and transportation. *

Probably the world's only ex-colony to have independence forced upon it, Singapore responded to its unanticipated expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965 by concentrating on economic development and by fostering a sense of nationhood. Though the survival of the miniature state was in doubt for a time, it not only survived but also managed to achieve the highest standard of living in Southeast Asia. The country also enjoyed a rare political continuity; its ruling party and prime minister triumphed in every election from 1959 to 1988. *

Singapore Model

The Singapore model has been described as "a state that enshrines order at the expenses of liberty" with a government measures its success on achieving a "gracious" society measured in toilet cleanliness and checking the singing ability of choruses. Even though Singapore is arguably the cleanest, greenest, safest large city in the world even Singaporeans describe it as "sterile" and "a society scrubbed free of litter, poverty crime—and virtually any sign of spontaneous life." Some people dismiss it as "Singabore" or "Asia Lite."

Singaporeans have the second highest per capita income in Asia after Japan but unlike Japanese salarymen, Singapore businessmen don't have to commute hours to work and traffic jams are rare. Even taxi drivers live in large spacious apartments. There are lots of open green spaces and trees. Compared to other Asian cities, Singapore is a paradise with "sprawling gardens, marble shopping malls and efficient transportation system."

Mark Jacobson wrote in National Geographic, Lee Kuan Yew “masterminded the celebrated "Singapore Model," converting a country one-eighth the size of Delaware, with no natural resources and a fractured mix of ethnicities, into "Singapore, Inc." He attracted foreign investment by building communications and transportation infrastructure, made English the official language, created a superefficient government by paying top administrators salaries equal to those in private companies, and cracked down on corruption until it disappeared. The model—a unique mix of economic empowerment and tightly controlled personal liberties—has inspired imitators in China, Russia, and eastern Europe. To lead a society, Lee said "one must understand human nature. I have always thought that humanity was animal-like. The Confucian theory was man could be improved, but I'm not sure he can be. He can be trained, he can be disciplined." In Singapore that has meant lots of rules—prohibiting littering, spitting on sidewalks, failing to flush public toilets—with fines and occasional outing in the newspaper for those who break them. It also meant educating his people—industrious by nature—and converting them from shopkeepers to high-tech workers in a few decades. [Source: Mark Jacobson, National Geographic, January 2010]

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: His “Singapore model” included centralized power, clean government and economic liberalism. But it was also criticized as a soft form of authoritarianism, suppressing political opposition, imposing strict limits on free speech and public assembly, and creating a climate of caution and self-censorship. To remove the temptation for corruption, Singapore linked the salaries of ministers, judges and top civil servants to those of leading professionals in the private sector, making them some of the highest-paid government officials in the world. The model has been studied by leaders elsewhere in Asia, including China, and the subject of many academic case studies. The commentator Cherian George described Mr. Lee’s leadership as “a unique combination of charisma and fear.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 22, 2015 */*]

“Mr. Lee promoted the use of English as the language of business and the common tongue among the ethnic groups, while recognizing Malay, Chinese and Tamil as other official languages. With tourists and investors in mind, Singapore sought to become a cultural and recreational hub, with a sprawling performing arts center, museums, galleries, Western and Chinese orchestras and not one but two casinos. */*

Singapore Success

Mark Jacobson wrote in National Geographic, “People like to call Singapore the Switzerland of Southeast Asia, and who can argue? Out of a malarial swamp, the tiny island at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula gained independence from Britain in 1963 and, in one generation, transformed itself into a legendarily efficient place, where the per capita income for its 3.7 million citizens exceeds that of many European countries, the education and health systems rival anything in the West, government officials are largely corruption free, 90 percent of households own their own homes, taxes are relatively low and sidewalks are clean, and there are no visible homeless people or slums. If all that, plus a typical unemployment rate of about 3 percent and a nice stash of money in the bank thanks to the government's enforced savings plan, doesn't sound sweet to you, just travel 600 miles south and try getting by in a Jakarta shantytown. [Source: Mark Jacobson, National Geographic, January 2010 /+\]

“Achieving all this has required a delicate balancing act, an often paradoxical interplay between what some Singaporeans refer to as "the big stick and the big carrot." What strikes you first is the carrot: giddy financial growth fueling never ending construction and consumerism. Against this is the stick, most often symbolized by the infamous ban on chewing gum and the caning of people for spray-painting cars. Disruptive things like racial and religious disharmony? They're simply not allowed, and no one steals anyone else's wallet. /+\

“Singapore, maybe more than anywhere else, crystallizes an elemental question: What price prosperity and security? Are they worth living in a place that many contend is a socially engineered, nose-to-the-grindstone, workaholic rat race, where the self-perpetuating ruling party enforces draconian laws (your airport entry card informs you, in red letters, that the penalty for drug trafficking is "DEATH"), squashes press freedom, and offers a debatable level of financial transparency? Some people joke that the government micromanages the details of life right down to how well Singapore Airlines flight attendants fill out their batik-patterned dresses./+\

“Singapore can be a disconcerting place, even to the people who call it home, though they'd never think of leaving. As one local put it, "Singapore is like a warm bath. You sink in, slit your wrists, your lifeblood floats away, but hey, it's warm." If that's so, most Singaporeans figure they might as well go down the tubes eating pepper crabs, with a couple of curry puffs on the side. Eating is the true national pastime and refuge. The longer I stayed, the more I ate. It got so I'd go over to the marvelously overcrowded Maxwell Road Food Centre, stand in the 20-minute queue for a plate at the Tian Tian food stall, eat it, then line up again.” /+\

Singaporean Nanny State

David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine, the Singaporean government “operates like a corporate board of directors with a conscience and a mandarin upbringing. It micromanages every aspect of daily life, in some cases with extreme penalties. Drop a cigarette butt on the street and it will cost you a $328 fine. Spray-paint graffiti on a wall and you can be caned. If you are over 18 and caught with more than 15 grams of heroin, the penalty is mandatory execution. Don't even think about jaywalking or speeding. Try urinating in a camera-equipped elevator in public housing and the police will come knocking. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, September 2007 **]

“If people develop bad habits, Singapore may step in with a behavior modification program, such as the government-sponsored Courtesy Campaign or the private-sector Kindness Movement. It might blitz the nation with TV ads and brochures and posters that stress the importance of being good and thoughtful neighbors. Past targets include: people who talk on cellphones at movies or fail to flush public toilets and couples who don't start their wedding dinners on time. (Couples who sent invitations urging their guests to be punctual were eligible to win $60 shopping vouchers.) When Singapore's birthrate soared, the government offered women incentives not to have children. When the birthrate plummeted, the state's Baby Bonus gave couples tax rebates and monthly child-care subsidies. To address Lee Kuan Yew's belief that intelligent couples should marry and have children to keep the gene pool strong, officialdom set up a matchmaking service complete with Love Boat cruises. It also gave it an Orwellian name, Social Development Unit, or SDU; young Singaporeans joked that SDU stood for single, desperate and ugly. (SDU hung up its cupid's quiver in late 2006. In 23 years, some 47,600 SDU members were married.) **

“All this social engineering has turned Singapore into something of a nanny state. But the People's Action Party, which has won every election since the end of colonial rule, has a quick rejoinder: check the results. Singapore's crime rate is one of the lowest in the world. There is no litter or graffiti. Everything is orderly, on time, efficient. True to Confucian doctrine, group achievement is celebrated above individual accomplishment, authority is respected and the duty to take care of one's family is so integral to society that elderly parents can sue their grown children for non-support. The "perfect" society. Yet perfection came at a price. Personal freedoms were surrendered, creativity and risk-taking never flourished, the leadership seemed to lurk behind every tree. Singapore was admired but not envied. "Growing the creative industry," as the government refers to its promotion of arts and culture, was a luxury that had to wait until Singapore's survival was assured. **

Singapore Model

The Singapore model has been described as "a state that enshrines order at the expenses of liberty" with a government measures its success on achieving a "gracious" society measured in toilet cleanliness and checking the singing ability of choruses. Even though Singapore is arguably the cleanest, greenest, safest large city in the world even Singaporeans describe it as "sterile" and "a society scrubbed free of litter, poverty crime—and virtually any sign of spontaneous life." Some people dismiss it as "Singabore" or "Asia Lite."

Singaporeans have the second highest per capita income in Asia after Japan but unlike Japanese salarymen, Singapore businessmen don't have to commute hours to work and traffic jams are rare. Even taxi drivers live in large spacious apartments. There are lots of open green spaces and trees. Compared to other Asian cities, Singapore is a paradise with "sprawling gardens, marble shopping malls and efficient transportation system."

Mark Jacobson wrote in National Geographic, Lee Kuan Yew “masterminded the celebrated "Singapore Model," converting a country one-eighth the size of Delaware, with no natural resources and a fractured mix of ethnicities, into "Singapore, Inc." He attracted foreign investment by building communications and transportation infrastructure, made English the official language, created a superefficient government by paying top administrators salaries equal to those in private companies, and cracked down on corruption until it disappeared. The model—a unique mix of economic empowerment and tightly controlled personal liberties—has inspired imitators in China, Russia, and eastern Europe. To lead a society, Lee said "one must understand human nature. I have always thought that humanity was animal-like. The Confucian theory was man could be improved, but I'm not sure he can be. He can be trained, he can be disciplined." In Singapore that has meant lots of rules—prohibiting littering, spitting on sidewalks, failing to flush public toilets—with fines and occasional outing in the newspaper for those who break them. It also meant educating his people—industrious by nature—and converting them from shopkeepers to high-tech workers in a few decades. [Source: Mark Jacobson, National Geographic, January 2010]

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: His “Singapore model” included centralized power, clean government and economic liberalism. But it was also criticized as a soft form of authoritarianism, suppressing political opposition, imposing strict limits on free speech and public assembly, and creating a climate of caution and self-censorship. To remove the temptation for corruption, Singapore linked the salaries of ministers, judges and top civil servants to those of leading professionals in the private sector, making them some of the highest-paid government officials in the world. The model has been studied by leaders elsewhere in Asia, including China, and the subject of many academic case studies. The commentator Cherian George described Mr. Lee’s leadership as “a unique combination of charisma and fear.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 22, 2015 */*]

“Mr. Lee promoted the use of English as the language of business and the common tongue among the ethnic groups, while recognizing Malay, Chinese and Tamil as other official languages. With tourists and investors in mind, Singapore sought to become a cultural and recreational hub, with a sprawling performing arts center, museums, galleries, Western and Chinese orchestras and not one but two casinos. */*

Singapore Model of Authoritarian Government

The "Singapore model" of government, sometimes described as "rugged democracy" and "soft authority," is "unique version of British parliamentary government with a close-knit ruling party and sophisticated political, social and media controls.” Designed to generate economic prosperity without political freedom, it rejects "Western-style liberal democracy and freedoms, putting individual rights over that of society.” "Authoritarian government and economic success are usually mutually exclusive over the long haul," one diplomat told Philip Shenon of the New York Times, "What's frightening about Singapore is that they actually manage to pull them both off."

"There's no unemployment, no real poverty—isn't it fantastic what the government has accomplished?" David Marshall a former Singapore ambassador to France told the New York Times, "But are we becoming robots?" He then went on to say the ruling party has "a computer brain and a plastic heart" and ruled the country by fear not affection."

Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire wrote: "Lee Kuan Yew justifies his repression of dissent by equating opposition with crime, turning his judicial system into black-robed enforcers of conformity. And the money flows in: he rationalizes his old-fashioned despotism by exalting the prosperity that comes with his ruthless enforcement of stability...[He] dresses up...Mussolini's boast of making the trains run on time as an assertion of Asian values."

The government responds to criticism like this by pointing a fing at countries like the U.S., and asking are they better off with their high crime rates and decadence. In a speech in 1992, Lee intoned: "What a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy. The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conduct, which are inimical to development."

Singapore Model versus Taiwan Model for China

"You do hear people” the mainland China “saying, 'Hey, we should do it Singapore's way," a Western analyst told the New York Times. "For those who want to say that you can have an authoritarian system and really raise people's living standard, Singapore is a great model to point to." [Source:Philip Shenon, the New York Times *^*]

Philip Shenon wrote in the New York Times: "While Singapore and Taiwan embrace western concepts of free markets, the social structure remains Chinese. Measured on almost every scale of economic and social achievement, Singapore and Taiwan are the most successful Chinese-run nations in nearly 7,000 years of Chinese civilization. their size belies their huge stature as role models for China. And their competition for the mainland's soul makes for the most interesting rivalry in Southeast Asia. Many prominent Singaporeans see the Taiwanese as undisciplined toughnecks whose free-wheeling style of democracy, if adopted in China, could tear it apart. The Taiwanese, or at least many of them, see Singapore's leaders as iron-fisted bullies who treat the citizens like dimwitted children." *^*

An editorial in the Singapore-government-run Strait Times said there had been "a loss of national purpose and discipline after 10 years of democratization" in Taiwan. One columnist wrote that "what at the Taiwanese have done with their greater political freedom has not been encouraging" and many Taiwanese "long for the earlier days of stability and honesty" under authoritarian rule. It is important to keep in mind Singapore is a small island with less than 6 million people. One diplomat told the New York Times, "It's something very different in China and you've got 300 times the population." *^*

Constitution of Singapore

Singapore became an autonomous state within Malaysia, with its own constitution, on September 16, 1963. It separated from Malaysia on August 9, 1965. On December 22, 1965, the Legislative Assembly passed a Singapore Independence Bill and a Constitutional Amendment. The Constitutional Amendment provided for a parliamentary system of government, with a president, whose duties were largely ceremonial, elected every four years by the Parliament. *

The constitution of the Republic of Singapore, promulgated in 1965, has undergone two major revisions, once in 1985 and again in 1999. Based on English common law, it has 14 parts and 153 articles. Although it provides all the mechanics for a liberal democracy, Singapore’s one-party rule for more than 45 years has not offered the opposition a meaningful chance to develop.

The Constitution can be amended by a two-thirds vote of Parliament. A 1966 amendment allowed appeal from the Court of Appeal in Singapore to the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council in Britain. In 1968 an amendment created the office of vice president and liberalized the requirements of citizenship. A 1969 amendment established the Supreme Court in place of the High Court and Court of Appeal as the highest appeal tribunal. A 1972 amendment entitled "Protection of the Sovereignty of the Republic of Singapore," introduced a measure to ensure the sovereignty of the city-state. It prohibited any merger or incorporation with another sovereign state, unless approved in a national referendum by a two-thirds majority. Under the same terms, it also prohibited the relinquishment of control over Singapore police forces and armed forces. In 1978 the Fundamental Liberties section of the Constitution (Part IV, Articles 9-16) was amended; the amendment extended government powers by establishing that arrests to preserve public safety and good order and laws on drug abuse would not be inconsistent with liberties set forth in that section of the Constitution. *

Singapore’s Head of Government: the Prime Minister

The effective leader of Singapore and head of government is the prime minister, who is the leader of the party with the most seats in the Singaporean parliament. The presidency is largely ceremonial. The president was chosen by parliament until 1993. Now there are elections for a six year term.

The current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has held office since August 12, 2004, and concurrently serves as minister of finance. The prime minister is assisted by a senior minister (since August 12, 2004, Goh Chok Tong, the former prime minister), a minister mentor (since August 12, 2004, Lee Kuan Yew, the prime minister’s father), two deputy prime ministers, and 14 other ministers. The president appoints as prime minister a member of Parliament believed likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of Parliament. There is no set tenure for the office of prime minister. On the advice of the prime minister, the president appoints the other members of the cabinet. The cabinet, responsible collectively to the Parliament, oversees government policies and day-to-day administration of the affairs of state.

Positions of leadership are held by a small group of elite politicians educated in the United States and Europe. The senior minister ranks second to the prime minister. Both Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong took this position after they stepped down as prime minister. The decision to change prime ministers is announced way in advance. Some cabinet shuffling takes place.

Singaporean leaders arrive at major international meeting on commercial flights while other arrive on state 747s or Airbuses.

Chief of state: President Tony Tan Keng Yam (since 1 September 2011); head of government: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (since 12 August 2004); Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (since 1 April 2009) and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam (since 21 May 2011) cabinet: appointed by president, responsible to parliament. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Elections: president elected by popular vote for six-year term; election last held on August 27, 2011 (next to be held by August 2017); following legislative elections, leader of majority party or leader of majority coalition usually appointed prime minister by president; deputy prime ministers appointed by president. Election results: Tony Tan Keng Yam elected president from a field of four candidates with 35.2 percent of the votes cast. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Executive Branch of Singapore

The Constitution stipulates that the executive authority of Singapore is vested in the president and exercised by him or the cabinet or any minister authorized by the cabinet, subject to the provisions of the Constitution. The cabinet directs and controls the government and is responsible to Parliament. The president appoints a member of Parliament as prime minister and, in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, appoints an attorney general. The attorney general advises the government on legal matters and has the discretionary power to initiate, conduct, or terminate any proceedings for any offense.

The president formally appoints as prime minister the member of Parliament who had the support of the majority of Parliament. On the advice of the prime minister, the president appoints the rest of the ministers from the ranks of the members of Parliament. The president, acting on the advice of the prime minister, also appoints a wide range of government officials, including judges, and members of advisory boards and councils. *

In consultation with the prime minister, the president appoints to his personal staff any public officers from a list provided by the Public Service Commission. In the exercise of his duties, the president acts in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or of a minister acting under the authority of the cabinet. The president may use his discretion in the appointment of the prime minister and in withholding consent to a request for the dissolution of Parliament.

President of Singapore

Singapore has a president with few responsibilities and little power. Singapore's constitution allows the president to veto the use of the country's reserves and some public office appointments, but doesn't give the post any executive authority. According to Singaporean law only people who have served in senior government or corporate positions are allowed to run. They must also be 45 years old or older and judged to have a good character and reputation. They have traditionally been non-Chinese. From 1965 to 1993 the president was chosen by parliament. In the early 1990s it was decided that the president would elected to a six year term. These elections have traditionally been shams, in some cases with only one candidate on the ballot.

The president can be reelected and removed from office by a two-thirds vote of Parliament. In 1988 the government discussed amending the Constitution to increase the power of the president. A white paper introduced in Parliament in July 1988 recommended that the president be directly elected by the people for a six-year term and have veto power over government spending as well as over key appointments. It also proposed an elected vice president with a six-year term of office. The proposed changes originated as a device intended to permit Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had been prime minister since 1959, to retain some power should he retire, as he had hinted, and assume the presidency. No specific dates for the proposed constitutional change were given in the white paper. As of late 1989, no action had been taken. *

In 1999, Sellapan Rama—S.R.—Nathan, ran unopposed for president and was elected to a six-year term by direct popular. He was sworn in for his first term on September 1, 1999, and on September 1, 2005, was sworn in for a second term without even being required to stand for election after the government declared his opponent ineligible to run.

The president of state is assisted by the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA), a body established by constitutional amendment in 1991. The president is required to consult the CPA before he vetoes the government budget or appoints government nominees to key posts. In other matters, such as withholding assent to certain bills passed by parliament, appointments to statutory boards, and withholding concurrence in regard to detention of persons in times of national emergency, the president may use his discretion on consulting the CPA. The CPA has six members: two appointed by the president at his discretion, two nominated by the prime minister, one put forward by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and another suggested by the chairman of the Public Service Commission. CPA members are appointed to initial six-year terms and can be reappointed for additional four-year terms. The current chairman of the CPA is Sim Kee Boon.

Cabinet of Singapore

As in all British-style polities, the government is headed by a prime minister who leads a cabinet of ministers of state selected from the ranks of the members of Parliament. The cabinet is the policy-making body, and its members direct the work of the permanent civil servants in the ministries they head. In 1989, the cabinet comprised fifteen members. Below the prime minister is a first deputy prime minister and a second deputy prime minister. They are followed by the ministers in charge of such functional departments as the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Defence and by two ministers without portfolio. The prime minister can reassign his cabinet members to new portfolios or drop them from the cabinet, and successful ministers head several progressively more significant ministries in their careers. [Source: Library of Congress, 1989 *]

There were thirteen ministerial portfolios in 1989: defence, law, foreign affairs, national development, education, environment, communications and information, home affairs, finance, labour, community development, trade and industry, and health. Some portfolios were split between different ministers. The first deputy prime minister (Goh Chok Tong) was also first minister for defence. The minister for communications and information (Yeo Ning Hong) also served as second minister for defence (policy). The minister for trade and industry (Brigadier General (Reserve) Lee Hsien Loong) was concurrently second minister for defence (services). The foreign affairs and law portfolios were similarly divided. *

The cabinet meets once or twice a week; its meetings are private and confidential. Administrative and staff support to the prime minister and cabinet are by the Office of the Prime Minister, the officials of which included a senior minister of state, a political secretary, a secretary to the prime minister, and a secretary to the cabinet. The Office of the Prime Minister coordinates and monitores the activities of all ministries and government bodies and also directly supervises the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and the Elections Department. Each minister is assisted by two secretaries, one for parliamentary or political affairs and the other for administrative affairs. The latter, the permanent secretary, is the highest ranking career civil servant of the ministry. *

Legislature of Singapore

Legislative branch of Singapore: unicameral Parliament (87 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms). In addition, there are up to nine nominated members (NMP) and up to nine Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP). Traditionally, members of parties that came closest to winning seats were appointed as NCMPs. NMPs are appointed by the president to ensure that a wide range of community views are present in Parliament. NMPs are independent and non-partisan members. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

General elections for Singapore’s legislature (parliament), which were also used to pick the prime minister: last held on May 7, 2011 (next to be held in May 2016). Election results: percent of vote by party - PAP 60.1 percent, WP 12.8 percent, NSP 12.1 percent, others 15 percent; seats by party - PAP 81, WP 6; (seats as of February 2013 PAP 80, WP 7). =

Members of Parliament must be citizens of Singapore, twenty-one years of age or older, on the current register of electors, able to communicate in either English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, or Tamil, and of sound mind. Membership ceases with the dissolution of a Parliament, which takes place every five years or at the initiative of the president. A general election must be held within three months of the dissolution of Parliament.

The unicameral 87-seat Singapore Parliament is modeled after the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy where members are voted in at regular general elections and the leader of the majority party is invited by the president to assume the post of prime minister. The prime minister then selects ministers from elected members of Parliament to form the cabinet, which in turn runs the executive branch of government. When the new Parliament first convenes, a speaker is elected. Each Parliament sits for five years from the date of its first session after a general election. Members are elected by universal suffrage. The president appoints a maximum of nine “nominated members” from among persons who have rendered distinguished public service, brought honor to the republic, or made notable contributions in the fields of arts and letters, culture, the sciences, business, industry, the professions, social or community service, or the labor movement. Parliament also can seat up to six “non-constituency members” to represent a political party or several parties not a part of the government, although nominated and non-constituency members are prohibited from voting on amendments to the constitution, money and supply bills, no-confidence measures, and removal of the president from office. The constitution further provides for group representation in Parliament of the Malay, Indian, and minority communities.

Passing Legislation in the Singaporean Parliament

The Singaporean parliament is relatively weak. Legislators that use to too much rhetoric or make remarks that can be mathematically disproved risks fines and censorship.

The legislature consists of the president and Parliament. Parliament convenes at least once a year, scheduling its meetings after the first session is summoned by the president. Members may speak in English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese or Tamil, and simultaneous translation is provided. Parliamentary procedure follows the British pattern: all bills are deliberated in three readings and passed by a simple majority. Only the government may introduce money bills, those that allocate public funds and so provide for the ongoing operations of the state. Once passed, bills become laws with the assent of the president and publication in the official Gazette. [Source: Library of Congress, 1989 *]

The final step in the passage of laws is the examination of bills by the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. The council, established by the Constitution (Amendment) Act of 1969, must determine if bills or other proposed legislation discriminate against any religious or ethnic community or otherwise contravene the fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. It also renders advisory opinions on matters affecting ethnic and religious communities that are referred to the council by the Parliament or government. The council is composed of ten members appointed for life and ten members and a chairman appointed for three-year terms by the president on the advice of the cabinet. Any bill on which the council renders an adverse opinion may not become law unless modified to its satisfaction or passed by two-thirds of the Parliament. The council has no jurisdiction over money bills or over any bill certified by the prime minister as affecting the defense or security of Singapore or the country's "public safety, peace, or good order." In addition, bills certified by the prime minister as so urgent that it is not in the public interest to delay their enactment are also exempted from review by the council.

Elections in Singapore

Suffrage: 21 years of age; universal and compulsory. There were general elections in 1988, 1991, 1997, 2001, 2006 and 2011. The next ones are in 2016.

General elections for Singapore’s legislature (parliament), which were also used to pick the prime minister: last held on May 7, 2011 (next to be held in May 2016). Election results: percent of vote by party - PAP 60.1 percent, WP 12.8 percent, NSP 12.1 percent, others 15 percent; seats by party - PAP 81, WP 6; (seats as of February 2013 PAP 80, WP 7). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Presidential Elections: president elected by popular vote for six-year term; election last held on August 27, 2011 (next to be held by August 2017); following legislative elections, leader of majority party or leader of majority coalition usually appointed prime minister by president; deputy prime ministers appointed by president. Election results: Tony Tan Keng Yam elected president from a field of four candidates with 35.2 percent of the votes cast. =

See 2006 Elections, 2011 Elections, History

Elections in Singapore have been described as being sort of like a dull drama with all the actors going through the motions. The People’s Action Party is expected to win. Opposition parties are only able to field candidates in about a third of the seats. After the People’s Action Party swept election in 1997, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said that voters “rejected Western-style democracy and freedoms.”

Some elections feature strong personal attacks and defamation suits. This was the case in 2001 when opposition leader Chee Soon Juan accused the government of lending Indonesia $10 billion. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong denied it and threatend to file a defamation suit, which was dropped when Chee issued an apology.

Many candidates are eliminated in the screening process. In the 1999 presidential election only a single candidate was allowed to run. Two other men wanted to run but didn’t make it through the screening process. The election itself was called off because it was figured to be pointless running one with only a single candidate.

Political activity, such as public speech and assembly, is curtailed and closely controlled by the government, but 10 days of outdoor rallies are allowed ahead of parliamentary elections every five years and presidential votes every six.

Singapore’s Electoral System

Singapore has 23 electoral divisions or constituencies. Nine single-member constituencies and 14 group representation constituencies, each with between three and six individuals, are represented by 75 members of Parliament. Singapore has only two kinds of elections, presidential and parliamentary. According to the constitution, the president is elected by popular vote for a six-year term. President Sellapan Rama Nathan was nominated unopposed and was elected to the presidency on August 18, 1999. He was sworn in for a second term on September 1, 2005, after the government had declared potential opponents ineligible to run. The leader of the majority party in Parliament or—although this has never happened—the leader of a majority coalition is normally appointed prime minister by the president. The People’s Action Party (PAP) dominated the most recent parliamentary elections held on May 6, 2006, as it has every election since 1959. The PAP, headed by Lee Hsien Loong, won 66.6 percent of the vote and 82 of the 84 seats in Parliament, including 37 seats that the opposition declined to contest. A third “non-constituent” seat was awarded to the opposition. The Workers’ Party of Singapore gained one regular and one non-constituent seat. The Singapore Democratic Alliance won a regular seat.

The electoral system is based on single-member constituencies. The law (amendments to the Constitution and to the Parliamentary Elections Act) providing for group representation constituencies also stipulated that the total number of members of Parliament from group representation constituencies had to total less than half the total number of members. Slightly more than half the constituencies would remain single-member constituencies. The candidate receiving the largest number of votes wins the election in that constituency. The consequence of this electoral rule, common to most Britishstyle constitutions, is to eliminate parliamentary representation for minority parties and to encourage the organization of parties whose candidates can win pluralities in many constituencies. In theory it is possible for a party to win every seat in parliament by receiving a plurality in every constituency.

High Salaries of Singaporean Politicians

The salaries of government ministers in Singapore are the highest in the world. In the early 2000s, the Singaporean Prime Minister was paid $1.9 million, three times the salary of the U.S. president. Singapore politicians peg their salaries to those of the country's highest-paid doctors, lawyers, bankers and other professionals and executives.

In 2007, Kevin Lim of Reuters wrote: “Singapore politicians will get a pay hike in 2008 year with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong enjoying a 21 percent rise in his annual salary to S$3.76 million, state radio reported. President S.R. Nathan will receive S$3.87 million, while members of parliament, most of whom hold full-time jobs outside politics, will get an allowance of S$225,000 a year, according to the report on 938LIVE radio. "In this tight labour market, where private sector salaries have moved up significantly, the civil service needs to follow promptly in order to attract and retain good people," the report quoted Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean saying. Teo is also the minister in charge of the civil service. [Source: Kevin Lim, Reuters, December 13, 2007]

Annual salaries of some politicians world-wide A) $1.7 million Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong; B) $498,000 Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard; 3) $310,000 New Zealand Prime Minister John Key; 4) $223,000 British Prime Minister David Cameron; 5) $36,000 Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. [Source: Wall Street Journal, January 2012]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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